Forklift Operator Ergonomics
Forklift operators spend a vast majority of their time sitting and twisting, resulting in a number of physical strains. After an eight hour shift one would expect to be, at least, a little sore and stiff. Improving operator ergonomics is critical for forklift manufacturers in ensuring operators are as productive in their last hour of work as they were in their first. Each advance in technology has improved operator comfort, but a full shift as a forklift operator it still challenging, particularly for the lower back.
There are a number of ways to improve operator ergonomics, other than waiting for the next advance in technology. Today’s blog will take a look at the risks of operator discomfort and what operators and the businesses they work for can do to improve upon operator ergonomics.
What are the risks of operator discomfort?
The awkward postures, vibration, jolting and repetitive nature of forklift driving can easily result in the development of musculoskeletal symptoms. The early signs of musculoskeletal injury are most commonly experienced in the neck, shoulders, upper back and the forearms. Discomfort, pain and reduced movement are some of the bodies warning signs.
What are the consequences?
• Left unchecked, musculoskeletal injury can progress to severe pain, reduced movement and eventually the inability to work.
• Sudden acceleration and hard breaking can cause mini whiplash injuries.
How can driver discomfort be reduced?
Speed multiplies the impact of all stresses on the body. Going faster may get the job done at a quicker rate but it increases shock and vibration, not to mention the chance of an accident. Shock and vibration causes muscles to work harder. Therefore the operator will become fatigued much quicker than usual. Fatigued muscles lead to bad posture, which along with repetition, are two of the most common causes of musculoskeletal injury.
30 second stretches involving hands, shoulders and neck, throughout the day does a great deal to ease discomfort. Unrelieved static posture is a serious health risk. For forklift drivers, who have been confined to the controls with little or no movement, it is important to take micro-breaks and stretch appropriately.
Workers at all levels should be trained in good posture and should be made aware of the five point check:
1. Remove wallet from back pocket – this will reduce back discomfort.
2. Upon sitting down, lean forward and shift hips to the back of the seat, positioning the spine with the correct three curve alignment.
3. Slide seat forward so that feet are resting comfortably and the steering wheel and pedals are within easy reach.
4. Adjust the backrest so it is tilted slightly backward.
5. Ensure the forklift seatbelt is worn.
Any area of the warehouse that causes a forklift operator to jolt and exacerbates physical discomfort should be repaired. For example, it is necessary to ensure the ramps between loading docks and trailers fit correctly. Otherwise there is likely to be jolting on the forklift as the driver may need to accelerate hard in order to mount the ramp and then break as soon as possible.
Forklift operators will be able to point out areas of the warehouse that need fixing, such as old and rigid floor surfaces or potholes. It is important that the operator is able to keep all four wheels on the ground in order to minimise any discomfort.
If the forklift seat is worn or cheaply made, this does not provide the support an operator needs and can result in serious consequences. An operator can develop varying levels of physical damage from strain, severe pain or the inability to work as a result of constant vibrations and shock from inadequate seating in forklifts.
New ergonomic seating, for forklifts, takes into consideration the natural sitting position of the body and compliments ones posture.
Ergonomic seating can now include:
• Leg, head, shoulder, and neck protection in case of tip-over
• Swivelling base for increased visibility and needless twisting
• Armrests to prevent fatigue
• Weighted suspension that guarantees comfort for all operators
How has technology improved ergonomics?
Many tools can be used in conjunction with the forklift to reduce the need for contact twisting, turning, neck craning and hard breaking:
• Mirrors and CCTV cameras can provide good all round visibility of the work area.
• Sensors can be mounted on the truck or racking to lift the forks to exactly the right height without extreme neck craning.
• Man-up systems are much safer and can yield efficiency gains.
Ergonomics has become increasingly important as the risks of operator discomfort due to repetition, constant jolting and static posture have become more apparent. It is up to both employers and forklift operators themselves to ensure they do everything possible to ease discomfort. Although, stretching, slowing down or training can take time out of one’s day an operator will be healthier and therefore more productive as a result.